Two new grants support faculty diversity and retention

Herbert Lee is Vice Provost for Academic Affairs and the campus diversity officer for faculty. (Photo by Carolyn Lagattuta)

UC Santa Cruz was awarded grants from the University of California to support two collaborative multi-campus projects for advancing faculty diversity. One project involves the creation of an Equity Advocate Program at UC Santa Cruz, while the other will examine the impact of course evaluation systems at several campuses.

“These grants are part of a series of projects that have been funded from the UC Office of the President’s program for Advancing Faculty Diversity, focusing on both recruitment and retention,” said Herbert Lee, vice provost for Academic Affairs and the campus diversity officer for faculty.

Lee is a principal investigator of one project, a collaboration with UC Riverside and UC Davis to look at potential bias in student surveys of teaching. He said a large body of research has documented that the numerical scores in course evaluations tend to be biased against women and faculty of color, but the narrative component of the surveys has not received the same attention.

“This project will use data science to analyze the text of the student comments to see if bias also shows up there,” Lee said. “Throughout higher education, student evaluations are one of the primary tools for evaluating teaching effectiveness, so if there are biases, we want to document it and take that into account somehow.”

Lee, a professor of statistics in the Baskin School of Engineering, and the other principal investigators—Vice Provost Daniel Jeske at UC Riverside and Vice Provost Philip Kass at UC Davis—are all statistical scientists. “Daniel Jeske had the idea that we can use statistical modeling and machine learning to analyze this,” Lee said.

The project will also evaluate the effects of recent changes to the survey questions used at UC Santa Cruz. The campus’s new Student Experiences of Teaching survey focuses the questions on student self-reflection in an effort to have students think about their own learning and how the instructor and course design may have helped or inhibited their learning.

“We want to know if those changes made a difference. If it reduced bias, then it’s something that can be replicated on other campuses,” Lee said. “The big picture is that we want to see that all faculty have a chance to succeed and that there aren’t hidden barriers and implicit biases against certain groups of faculty.”

Equity Advocates

Overall, supporting equitable outcomes for faculty requires both innovation and long-term commitment, starting with the hiring process and continuing over the course of a career. This is the goal of the second collaborative multi-campus project for advancing faculty diversity granted to UCSC. It aims at creating an Equity Advocates Program at UC Santa Cruz that will empower strong champions of this work and provide dedicated resources.

Two faculty Equity Advocates per academic division will receive specialized training and a course release in order to advise on hiring processes, analyze tenure and promotion rates within departments, provide formal and informal faculty mentoring, and assist with other needs related to faculty equity and inclusion

Associate Professor of Anthropology Megan Moodie, who led the development of the project proposal, said that the idea sprung from a prior Advancing Faculty Diversity collaboration with UC Merced, through which a committee of faculty from both campuses worked to synthesize and apply research on best-practices in inclusive hiring.

“This program is coming out of the hard work of last year’s committee and our conversations about proactive steps to create more equitable faculty hiring and retention outcomes, not just nice rhetoric and language around it,” she said. “The whole idea of an Equity Advocate is to have someone where the rubber meets the road.”

UC Merced has an existing Equity Advocates program in place, as do many other UC campuses, but at Merced, the new project will expand the role beyond the initial hiring process. UC Santa Cruz and UC Merced currently have the most racially diverse professoriates in the system, but substantial disparities in representation remain between faculty, the student base, and the state’s overall population.

The Equity Advocates Program will help to deliver continued improvements in representation and will provide crucial formal recognition, support, and compensation for faculty equity leaders at UC Santa Cruz. Many faculty of color have previously been filling aspects of the role invisibly, according to research by Associate Professor of Psychology Rebecca Covarrubias.

Recruitment for faculty Equity Advocates is scheduled to start in winter of 2022, following the completion of training program development in collaboration with UC Merced.

UC Santa Cruz’s proposal development team for this project included Professor of Molecular, Cell, and Developmental Biology Needhi Bhalla, Professor of Psychology Jean E. Fox Tree, Associate Professor of Anthropology Megan Moodie, and Professor of Literature Juan Poblete. Bhalla, Fox Tree, Poblete, and Professor of Film & Digital Media John Jota Leaños will lead the campus effort moving forward.